Family Finance: Summer on the Cheap

Jennifer Wray
Jennifer Wray

It's summertime, and while it feels like the days may stretch on forever, your money, I'm sorry to say, will not.

With that in mind, here's a list of locations and activities to keep your kids busy and your budget happy. Thankfully, Central Ohio has opportunities aplenty to take advantage of free or low-cost entertainment without blowing the bank. Here are a few of them:

One You'll Go Wild For

Save some serious cash at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium this summer by riding theZoo Bus. By taking this seasonal COTA route, you can avoid the $10 parking fee and get a coupon for zoo admission, which is discounted to $3 per person for riders. Zoo Bus riders also can take advantage of a $10 discount off entry to neighboring Zoombezi Bay. COTA fares are $2 each way ($1 for children 48 inches or taller through age 12, free for children under 48 inches).

Speaking of the bus, if you have a child who enjoys the journey as much as the destination, hop on COTA'sCBUS for a spin around Columbus' core. The Downtown circulator is free and runs every 15 minutes from the Short North to the Brewery District.

Picture the Savings

In addition to its noteworthy permanent collection,Columbus Museum of Art offers an array of traveling exhibitions and kid-friendly activities, particularly in its Wonder Room, which uses textile-based artworks to inspire children's creativity. General admission ($14 adults, $8 students older than age 18 and seniors, $5 children ages 6-17 and free for ages 5 and younger) is free to all on Sundays. Plus, on Thursday evenings, CMA offers $5 general and special exhibition admission and $5 deals in its café and store.

While you're Downtown, visit Ohio State University'sUrban Arts Space. Located in the former Lazarus building, the exhibition and performance venue hosts free events, including the Art Explorations series for children ages 4-11.

From there, head north to Campus to theBilly Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, which houses the world's largest collection of cartoon- and comic-related materials. Admission is free. Contemporary art fans can visit the neighboringWexner Center for the Arts, which provides free entry to children younger than 18 and college students with ID, and no-cost admission on Thursdays after 4 p.m. and the first Sunday of the month.

Free (or Nearly Free) Movies

The From Book to Film series atGateway Film Center, in partnership with the Columbus Metropolitan Library, features a book-inspired movie every week, and admission (for up to four people) is free with a library card. On the last Saturday morning of every month, GFC presentsHoot: Films, Music & More. The events include a screening of kid-friendly shorts, live music and activities. Admission is free with a canned good donation for The Open Shelter.

Finally, take advantage of the temperate summer evenings by taking in an outdoor movie screening.Bexley,Easton,Goodale Park,Hilliard,Metro Parks,New Albany,Reynoldsburg,Topiary Park,Upper Arlington and theWexner Center are among the places where families can watch free movies under the stars.

See Green, Save Green

Children and adults alike can find inspiration and fun in the new 2-acreScotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children's Garden, which features play areas, a canopy walk in a mulberry tree's branches and the stunning Sandstone Creek. (Pro tip: Bring a swimsuit or change of clothes for that one.) Children's Garden entry is included in the cost of admission to the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens ($18 adults, $15 seniors, $11 children ages 3-12 and free for ages 2 and younger). Franklin County and Columbus residents can take advantage of Community Days at the Conservatory on the first Sunday of the month, when admission is free with a valid ID.

COSI, another longtime favorite destination, offers a range of admission deals, including free entry and discounted memberships for teachers. Admission generally starts at $25 adults and $20 children, but from 5-9 p.m. on the last Friday of the month, it's discounted by $10.

Lastly, remember that your membership to a local museum, the zoo or other cultural venue not only earns you free admission tothat institution, it often provides free or discounted admission elsewhere—so see what reciprocal benefits are available.

Jennifer Wray is a freelance writer and new mother.